db’s resident foodie, Lucy Shaw, heads to authentic new Japanese site Sakagura on Heddon Street for silky sashimi and saké surprises in a secret booth.
The concept: I’ve never been to Japan, but Sakagura on Heddon Street in Mayfair is what I imagine an authentic Japanese restaurant to look and feel like. There’s not a conveyor belt in sight. Instead, interiors focus on lashings of blond wood, glinting saké bottles, giant saké barrels and intimate booths cordoned off with curtains.
The site, which opened last November, is backed by the Japan Centre Group, which also owns successful noodle chain Shoryu Ramen. Sakagura is a more upmarket concept specialising in the Unesco-honoured, seasonally focused ‘washoku’ cuisine, in which rice, miso and fish usually make an appearance.
The décor: Greeted with an enthusiastic “konnichiwa” by the maître ‘d at the door, I was ushered to one of three private booths on street level, hidden behind a white linen curtain, allowing my guest and I privacy while being able to peep through the curtains to enjoy the buzz of the room.
The booths would be perfect for mafia meetings or illicit trysts, or for misanthropes who like the idea of dining out but can’t stomach the reality of having to eat around other people. The restaurant has got the interiors spot on – walking inside you genuinely feel transported to Japan.
For the kitchen table experience you can book into the 11-seater counter bar downstairs and watch the chefs at work among the restaurant’s liquid library of saké bottles. Oh, and the chopsticks are double-ended, which is great if you’re sharing your feast.
The food: Specialising in seasonally focused southern Japanese cuisine, executive chef Kanja Furukawa has created a diverse menu split into bite-sized sections, running the gamut from appetisers, sushi, sashimi and yakitori, to robata dishes from the grill, rice dishes, noodles and desserts.
Alongside more traditional plates like salmon teriyaki with sweet soy; sea bass sashimi with plum ponzu; and pork dumplings with yuzu are more out there creations like beef short rib katsu; soft shell crab karaage; and brussel sprout tempura, proving head chef Jin Yackshin has both a sense of humour and a sense of place.
Signature dishes: The flappingly fresh sashimi platters prettified with edible flowers are a must, and incudes fatty slivers of salmon, tuna and yellowtail. Also on point is the silky, miso-glazed black cod, the soft sweet fish falling into flakes at the sight of a fork, though I would have liked a dollop or three of sweet miso sauce to dip it in.
Carnivores will love the decadent wagyu carpaccio drizzled in white truffle oil served in razor-thin slivers with a vivifying yuzu ponzu dressing, the only fault being the portion wouldn’t fill up a mouse, but that’s the trade off if you want the Château Lafite of the meat world.
The drinks: For the most authentic Japanese experience, ditch the wine for the evening and stick to saké.
Our night began with a refreshing sharpener called It’s Hot in Tokyo, that blended Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve (a Japanese single malt made by Suntory with cucumber and melon notes), choya umeshu plum liqueur, fresh ginger and jalapeño, which, given its fiery ingredients, was citrus dominant and dangerously easy to drink.
Furano Fields cocktail
We then moved on to our saké experience that took in an ebullient, appetite-whetting sparkling expression, a creamy oak aged saké with a soft profile and exquisite texture, and a top of the tree Junmai Daigingo saké served from magnum offering crisp, fresh notes of green apples and herbs.
Who to know: The star of the show at Sakagura is saké sommelier Mimi Tokumine, who boasts and encyclopaedic knowledge of the rice wine.
It’s well worth being left in her capable hands on the drinks front, as she’ll guide you through saké’s various guises, from sparkling and oak aged to the top draw labels made with rice grains polished down to 50% of their original weight.
Midway through the evening Tokumine peeped through the curtain holding a box full of tiny cups in a kaleidoscope of colours, allowing us to choose our vessel for the next saké pouring – it’s these little gestures you remember most fondly and vividly when looking back on an experience.
Don’t leave without: Sneaking a peek at the counter bar in the basement if you’re not eating there to spy on the chefs at work.
Last word: Sakagura isn’t perfect – there were moments of my meal that left me feeling flat, from the bland shrimp dumpling broth to the underwhelming lobster and burdock rice pot, but the place has bags of character and impeccable service.
My guest and I opted for the six-course tasting menu priced at £80 each, which, in hindsight, was probably a mistake. Give yourself free reign to order greedily from each section of the menu to fully delight in the washoku experience.
Sakagura, 8 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BS; Tel: +44 (0)20 3405 7230